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How to cover each others mailboxes while on vacation and how to manage departments email

I'd like to know if the following goals are possible if we only have IMAP or PoP3 and no Exchange:

-      To have a single centralized repository of department@company.com emails accessible to multiple people
-      To support covering of other people’s work when they are out
-      To protect the repository by assigning a single administrative user so that the repository can’t be inadvertently wiped out by local user settings
-        This was attempted before with an IMAP folder that everyone could access, but two problems forced us to stop using it: 1) Anyone could delete (or purge) any or all emails by mistake, and 2) large attachments brought everyones Outlook to a crawl- and we get ALOT of large attachments.

-      A power user suggested that this could be remedied by limiting full downloads with attachments to a file size limit.  Then any larger files could be downloaded as needed by the individual- can this be managed in an IMAP server somehow. Is this functionality even in IMAP? to put it another way, is there a way to give users just read and send access to IMAP but not "full control"?
-      Administrator could create Outlook rules for all incoming messages to file all incoming messages per manufacturer.
I take it that what we need is an Exchange server that will simply allow us to read each others mailboxes (even to share a common one) but we are just not about to get that approved.
Thank you!
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rtayIT DirectorCommented:
You are correct, you need exchange.  You could solve all the issues you mentioned and more.  I understand the capital outlay problem you face, but maybe take a look at hosted exchange.  Get the features without the hardware and consultant cost.  The charge per user per month.  

HardwareDudeAuthor Commented:
I know, but are there any other alternatives?
rtayIT DirectorCommented:
Outlook is not designed to do what you want without exchange.  ms wants you to buy exchange server.  There are other low cost 3rd party solutions.   Read this:  

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